If there's one thing in the games industry to set the clock by, it's the annual releases of Electronic Arts sports game franchises. Also this year, under the special conditions, publishers and developers manage to add new offshoots to the series FIFA, NHL and Madden. Right in advance: Madden NFL 21 is terrific - from one angle. And it's horrible - viewed from a different angle. In our review of Madden NFL 21, we reveal how the new part of the series is doing in gaming practice. 


The developers of Madden NFL - basically of every sports game - are always faced with a major problem: To transport a sport onto the screens as realistically as possible and make sure that the playful part is also entertaining. Every sports simulation therefore contains some noticeable arcade elements, sometimes directly in the controls, sometimes indirectly noticeable through adjustments to movement sequences or the game speed. This is also noticeable in Madden NFL 21, the latest offshoot of EA Sports American football series. The plan for the current offshoot: Football has to feel even more realistic, for this there is a separate arcade mode as a new draft horse. 

Madden NFL 21: Twisted the little screws

Madden NFL 21 stays true to its roots. This is a curse and a blessing at the same time for the sports game series on the most popular US sport, which can also inspire more and more fans in this country. Every year gamers ask themselves the same questions: is the new Madden NFL a new game or just an expensive update from its predecessor?

Sometimes it is difficult to find an answer to this. Madden NFL 21 is both a new game and an update. The core elements of the sports simulation endure - and at a high level. This is good news for all those fans who fear the developers would curtail the gameplay in favor of beginner-friendliness. This is not the case and basically not necessary because different skill and game settings allow you to create your Madden experience the way you need it: simulation or rather arcade? Easy or challenging? Kansas City Chiefs or Miami Dolphins?

Madden NFL 21 is based on its predecessor. Optical changes will probably come with the next-gen version. Image rights: EA

Madden NFL 21 is based on its predecessor. Optical changes will probably come with the next-gen version. Image rights: EA

Yes, the team choice again makes a huge difference in terms of difficulty. Last but not least, this is due to the skill system that EA Sports has christened “X-Factor”. It's basically a system that aims to highlight the unique skills of some superstars. What sounds like it was made for an action variant of American football, actually has a right to exist from a simulation point of view, and what's more: It's an asset to Madden NFL - this year too. The super skills of the players should reflect their real athletic abilities and thus turn their virtual alter egos into outstanding professionals. That works and is much more of a focus in Madden NFL 21. There are dozens of new skills that are activated when you complete a mini-task in the game with the respective player.

Fortunately, the X-factor system has been expanded further. Image rights: EA

Fortunately, the X-factor system has been expanded further. Image rights: EA

A cool gimmick that can show how powerful some players actually are. When Patrick Mahomes can suddenly throw not just a long pass but an overly long pass or Lamar Jackson's quarterback scramble makes Lamar Jackson almost invulnerable to defense, then it's fun and leads to such terrific game situations - but it also feels overpowering at times. Nevertheless: The X-factor moves ensure increased immersion. You almost feel like you've laced the shoes of an MVP yourself and you can understand where the enthusiasm for American football comes from. The superstar skills celebrate the sport, get carried away and create unique moments that can even turn games. EA Sports’s focus on the system is a wise decision.

Backyard football is Madden's flagship

The focus of Madden NFL 21 is primarily on two game modes: Superstar Knockout, which was part of Madden NFL 20 after the release, and The Yard. While Superstar Knockout is playfully based on classic online duels with a sudden death system - there are quick, short matches with specially designed teams - “The Yard” is the new highlight of this year's Madden NFL. The mode offers football as it is played in gardens, backyards or in front of the house of fans - it is almost an American equivalent to street football. In the end, “The Yard” is the “Volta” of the Madden series: small field, few players, more overview, special rules. Everything is geared towards action and fun, not tactics and strategy. The whole concept is also connected to Madden Mobile, the mobile offshoot of the Madden NFL series.

Playing in the new mode "The Yard" also means equipping yourself with pretty tasteful clothes. Image rights: EA

Playing in the new mode “The Yard” also means dressing up in pretty tasteful clothes. Image rights: EA

Two teams of six players each then stand on the pitch. There is no time limit, instead the game is played for points. In addition, every team has a certain number of downs, punts or kicks. What is there are some additional maneuvers that you can play - including passes to the front behind the “line of scrimmage”. Of course, the mega-stars can also use their skills in this mode. That makes The Yard a pretty cool, if entertaining, experience. After all, the mode provides new life in the rather dusty-looking Madden franchise. Again and again new challenges await the athlete on the different “yards” on the gamepad. “The Yard” becomes a welcome change from the conventional matches, in which clock management and game planning are more important and in which penalties repeatedly interrupt the flow of the game. The new mode is intended as a supplement and the concept works, probably also because it is a long way from the otherwise strict rules of the NFL.

Apart from the new modes, Maden NFL 21 basically plays the same way as in previous years, albeit with small, but at least noticeable adjustments to tackles or pass rushes. In detail, the controls feel more intuitive and to the point, you can react more precisely to the game situations if you have to. In the predecessors it was rather slow, Madden NFL 21 simply offers more direct gameplay. 

Backyards and parking lots are all about fast, uncomplicated matches with more action and stripped-down rules. Image rights: EA

Backyards and parking lots are all about fast, uncomplicated matches with more action and stripped-down rules. Image rights: EA

There are obvious changes in the presentation of the transmissions or the user interface. Overall, however, these are rather marginal phenomena: At its core, Madden NFL 21 is a Madden NFL 20 with updates on a detailed level. Is that bad? No, because the predecessor was a more than successful attempt to breathe new life into the series. With Maden NFL 21, EA Sports is now relying on more intensive gameplay directly on the pitch: There are more aggressive play-calling, but above all pass-rush options, which finally enable the player to act actively on the defensive and not alone To have to hope for bad passes or interceptions in order to turn a game. Of course, it is still noticeable that the individual values ​​of the field players also matter if defensive actions are to be successful. Stars have an advantage here again.

Tactical influences are also to be expected through the “Live Playbooks 2.0”, ie through a feature that is supposed to integrate moves from the real league into the game. Due to the pending start of the season, the innovation is not yet noticeable. The concept behind it sounds good and an enrichment.

The "Live Playbook 2.0" links game and reality. Image rights: Electronic Arts

The “Live Playbook 2.0” links game and reality. Image rights: Electronic Arts

There is enough choice on a playful level: There are exhibition matches, online and offline, and with the option of playing the Pro Bowl; Trainings as well as the obligatory “Madden Ultimate Team” mode, in which you earn coins by completing challenges or online matches, which are then invested in player packs - of course, real money can also be used again. Overall, however, there are no innovations. 

International stadiums are included

Madden NFL made a leap with the 21 offshoot in terms of its internationality. The professional league has long since opened up to the global audience, and now you can see that in the video game too. Finally, the stadiums of the “International Series” are included: Matches can be played in the new Tottenham Hotspur stadium or in London's Wembley Stadium, and the Azteca Stadium in Mexico City is also available. But it shouldn't have been at the venues. The two new arenas in Los Angeles, the SoFi Stadium in Inglewood and the Allegiant Stadium as the home of the Las Vegas Raiders, are also available in Madden NFL 21.

A highlight of Madden NFL this year is the implementation of the new stadiums - here the approximately 1,8 billion US dollar Allegiant Stadium of the Las Vegas Raiders, where up to 72.000 fans can cheer their team. Image rights: EA

A highlight of Madden NFL this year is the implementation of the new stadiums - here the approximately 1,8 billion US dollar Allegiant Stadium of the Las Vegas Raiders, where up to 72.000 fans can cheer their team. Image rights: EA

Little or nothing has changed graphically for the time being. For now, because Madden NFL 21 has yet to make the leap to the next-gen Playstation 5 and Xbox Series X consoles. Presumably, the optics will then be significantly upgraded, changes could also become noticeable in a playful way. Whether there will be changes to the gameplay when Madden NFL takes the next-gen hurdle remains to be seen - nothing is known yet.

Madden NFL 21 offers a decent overall package with different game modes and some innovations, but overall EA Sports continues to focus on improvements in details, albeit at times clearly noticeable. The gameplay on the lawn is clearly improved, but the framework - and thus also the Ultimate Mode and the Franchise Mode - have been left untouched by the developers of EA Tiburon, one could even say that it has been neglected. A lot feels familiar this year. That doesn't quite apply to story mode.

There is little to complain about when it comes to getting ready for the kick-off - it works at least as well with Madden NFL 21 as with its predecessors. Overall, the broadcasting presentation has improved significantly. Image rights: EA

There is little to complain about when it comes to getting ready for the kick-off - it works at least as well with Madden NFL 21 as with its predecessors. Overall, the broadcasting presentation has improved significantly. Image rights: EA

If you start “Face of the Franchise” (you should save it directly in the “Cloud League”, by the way, in order to be able to transfer the score when the next-gen consoles appear), you will be entertained by an essentially quite successful career story, where two protagonists, the “Heartbreak Kids”, are at the center of the story. As always, celebrities are also on the scene, including rapper Snoop Doog. Overall, the story mode is more sophisticated than the longshot mode from its predecessor - and the story is also more gripping. In addition, you don't constantly play through a position, but can be a quarterback, receiver or running back. This does not automatically give the feeling that everything is already predetermined on the way to becoming the “Face of the Franchise” in the professional league. Here and there there are smaller events away from the grass: interviews or dialogues with team members - and thus even opportunities to polish up your statistics a little. Almost mandatory for such modes: There's also tons of kitsch throughout history. You don't have to like that, but you don't have to be angry about it either. 

Infobox

Number of players: solo, multiplayer (offline and online)
Age: from 0 (USK)
Difficulty: medium to high
Long-term motivation: high

Publisher: Electronic Arts / EA Sports
Developer: EA Tiburon
Year of publication: 2020
platforms: PC (also Steam), Playstation 4, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, Playstation 5
Languages: German, English (voice output)
Cost: 64,99 Euro

Summary

It is again up to date the discussion about the most expensive roster update of the year. At Madden NFL 21 you can argue about whether the investment is worth the money or not - but this year you have to take into account that you can also get the upgrade to the next-gen version at no extra charge. Current-gen players are probably not interested in this, they expect the series to be further developed.

EA Tiburon basically delivers that, too, if you look in detail: Everything feels a bit more precise on the pitch, especially having to play the defensive part is now much more interesting because you can actually influence the game as a player. Put the offense under pressure? Goes! Bring cool tackles to the screen? Goes! Decide the match with the D-Line? Is also possible! 

This shows how valuable even small changes can be. If you only look at the big picture, however, you will see a Madden NFL 21 in Madden NFL 20, with all the strengths and weaknesses of the previous year. In any case, when it comes to sports games, one slowly has to ask oneself which major adjustments are still to be expected. There aren't that many - at least from the Madden NFL simulation perspective. Of course, EA Tiburon could put more love into the Ultimate Team mode in the future or completely renew the franchise mode, maybe even invest more work in the story mode - the latter, however, already looks much more focused this year. 

The mood in the virtual stadiums is also better: Driven by “Defense!” Shouts, you mobilize your last reserves just before your own end zone, the entry and the preliminary skirmish before the matches are improved again and the presentation of successful moves or key scenes is also known to inspire. Long-time fans who also have the last five Madden offshoots on the shelf will still be able to consider whether it also has to be Madden NFL 21 as a purchase just to receive a roster update. Long-time fans are, however, also who love the NFL - and it is precisely these fans who get some game options reduced to the gameplay that one would not want to do without. In the end, Madden NFL 21 is also a good game - and in any case unrivaled in the American football segment. At least for now, because 2K Games would like to cut at least a small piece of the pie in the next year.


Author

Last updated on 27.09.2022/XNUMX/XNUMX / Affiliate Links / Images from the Amazon Product Advertising API. * = Affiliate links. Images from Amazon PA API